It is Christmas Day when the Pequod pushes off from shore, and Ishmael reports that Bildad and Peleg help to guide the vessel from port, as “pilots,” before leaving the Pequod and getting onto another vessel, to take them back to Nantucket while the Pequod heads out into the open Atlantic. Ishmael hears tell of, and sees, Starbuck, the first mate, Stubb, the second, and Flask, the third, and he bustles along with the rest of the crew in preparing the boat for its long voyage. Bildad is loath to leave the Pequod and board the return ship to the port, but Peleg finally convinces him—after Bildad spends some minutes worrying atop the deck, pacing—that it’s time to go. Bildad and Peleg then leave the Pequod in the command of Starbuck, while Ahab remains below-deck, hidden from view.
Melville makes a point of having the Pequod begin its journey on Christmas Day. Christmas, of course, apart from being an important Christian celebration and a day of nearly guaranteed rest across the country, is also a day of new beginnings, of the start of Jesus’ life. Similarly, the Pequod is about to start a multi-year journey across the oceans of the world. But unlike the birth of Jesus, the shipping-out of the Pequod is tinged with a kind of brooding darkness, as exemplified by Ahab’s “hiding” until the ship is well out of port.